A 37-year-old woman has become the first person in the United Kingdom to be convicted of perpetrating female genital mutilation (FGM).
According to the BBC, the Uganda-born woman was sentenced to 11 years in prison for mutilating her three-year-old daughter, and another two years for “indecent images and extreme pornography.” The woman’s partner, a 43-year-old man from Ghana, was cleared of involvement in the FGM, but pleaded guilty to “two charges of possession of an indecent image of a child and two charges of possessing extreme pornography.” Neither perpetrator has been named to protect the identity of the young victim.
Police became aware of the case after the child was brought to a hospital in East London; jurors were told that she had “lost a significant amount of blood” as a result of her injuries. The mother claimed that the girl had sustained the injuries after she fell and cut herself on the edge of a cupboard while trying to get a biscuit, the Guardian reports. The judge, however, was not convinced.
“FGM has long been against the law, and let’s be clear, FGM is a form of child abuse,” Justice Philippa Whipple said during the sentencing hearing, according to the BBC.
FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, can cause long-term physical and psychological problems. There are many factors that fuel the practice in certain communities, including the desire to prevent premarital sex and ensure marital fidelity.
It is not clear what motivated the mother in this case, but Whipple suggested that witchcraft may have played a role; when police searched her home, they found cows’ tongues bound with wires and pierced with nails. They also discovered limes stuffed with pieces of paper with names written on them—including the names of police officers and social workers who had carried out the investigation.
FGM is illegal in the U.K., but it is difficult for authorities to crack down on the practice because it is often carried out overseas. Between April 2017 and March 2018, more than 6,000 FGM cases were identified in Britain, only 85 of which had been perpetrated in the country. And only four FGM cases have ever been brought to court in the U.K. The most recent case marks the first time that anyone has been convicted of the crime.
Leethen Bartholomew, the head of the National FGM Center, called the conviction “a watershed moment,” according to the Guardian.
“[It] sends a strong message to society that this crime will not be tolerated,” Bartholomew said, “and offenders will be held accountable.”